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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Wanna read some nasty filth?! Huh? Do ya!?

For those of you who read the recent Crimson column on how absolutely wonderful Western Civilization and its study are (yeah bland food, imperialist religion, and rampant social segregation!) here is a little more fodder. Note its publisher: Capitalism Magazine. The fact that such a magazine exists is pretty funny. Yeah. Funny like late-stage cancer.

The article talks about Christopher Columbus in glowing and highly false terms and relates him to Western Civilization. Both are deemed great and worthy of our respect AND our late nights in Lamont. An excerpt:

The values of Western civilization are values for all men; they cut across
gender, ethnicity, and geography. We should honor Western civilization not
for the ethnocentric reason that some of us happen to have European ancestors
but because it is the objectively superior culture.

Note the immediate contradiction in the article's language saying that Western Civilization is for men and then adding that it cuts across gender lines. My...the things they'll publish these days...


At 11:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the English language, as with most world languages (both Western and non-Western, incidentally) the male nouns, such as "men" conventionally refer to people of both genders. Get over it. And what's funny that there's a magazine about Capitalism? Is a magazine about Communism "funny like late-stage cancer?" And what, pray tell, exactly is wrong with this article? Do you disagree that "a free society is better than slavery; reason is better than brute force as a way to deal with other men; productivity is better than stagnation"? Do you disagree with "reason, science, self-reliance, individualism, ambition, productive achievement" being good values? Maybe this article is not complete --- it does not acknowledge that Western civilization has not been universally good, or that other cultures also have worthwhile contributions to the world (or have developed some of the same ideas as found in Western civilization). But your attack on this article doesn't sound like an attack on its completeness, but sounds precisely like the attack on the universal values that happen to be found in Western civilization that the article condemns.

At 1:29 AM, Anonymous Disgruntled said...

Do you think that non-Western cultures believe that slavery is better than a free society, that brute force is better than reason, that stagnation is better than productivity? Wow. That's pretty condescending. And for that matter, do you really think that Western civilization can claim some kind of ownership over freedom and reason? Umm...what about colonialism? Ever studied any American history? Perhaps it wouldn't actually be so bad if more courses on Western civilization were taught around here.

Your point about male nouns, however, is really original. Maybe we'll get over it when men in societies all over the world get over that little convention of speaking for the rest of us.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

To Anonymous: Conventional terminology in this case is sexist (as in biased) since it refers to all men and women as men, effectively and literally not addressing women. Despite however widely it's used, it's wrong. My own sense of humor made me laught at the magazine title. It's just something that I don't like so I equated it with cancer. They both destroy poorer and darker people the world over (through monetary means such as inability to pay for chemo or other treatmens and, oh yeah, rampant economic labor exploitation and exposure to toxins through unsafe working conditions). Whatev.

Our (Western) society is not "free". Do not be so fooled. Look through the laws of our world (UN, NATO, World Bank, etc.), nation (Constitution, myriad other federal statutes and legislation with constant changes), states (constituions and statutes), county (exercising state government law), and cities (municpal law) and after you're done that tell me how free we are. This is just legal stuff not to mention cultural, media, financial, etc. constraints that impact our lives everyday. I do disagree with individualism (in the sense that people are only concerned with their personal well-being) and ambition since we are social creatures (therefore we need others and should accountable for them) and ambition usually is shown through the adamant pursuit of money and power. "Productive achievement" is also iffy. What do you mean by that? Capitalism (and all the havoc that it has spawned) is the chief product of Western civiliation in my opinion. Seeing as how the article supports Western Civ it support capitalism. Seeing as how I do not support capitalism (as an ideology) I do not support the article. Get it?

At 3:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The point is simply that democracy was invented in a Western culture, anti-slavery movements came out of the West, that logic/argument/philosophy were invented in the West (and, which that article does not point out, simultaneously in China, although it was the strain invented in the West that came to influence the world), and where other cultures stagnated, Western civilization invented structures and ideas to encourage productivity and innovation. The whole point is that Western culture cannot claim ownership over freedom and reason, because they are values for all men. They happened to have originated in the West, however. I'm also not denying that the West also did bad things, and that article perhaps ought to have mentioned these as well. But you'll also note that the objections to colonialism and slavery, for example, came out of that selfsame Western tradition. So did Communism, incidentally.

Maybe you need to study more non-Western history, to understand that before contact with the West what life was like. Not that it was necessarily peachy-keen afterwards either (again, I admit the article is incomplete).

Men shouldn't speak for women, any more than women should speak for men. But gender in languages is a grammatical construction, not a political one. "La pomme" and "le citron" do not imply some hierarchy between apples and lemons in French. So don't pick on people's good grammar to criticize their politics --- you're imputing values into their writing which are not there, and it becomes a specious argument. For example, take our Jersey Slugger. That suggests you support brute force and oppression doesn't it? Of course, not, because it's a name, and it would be wrong to impute political meaning into it.

At 10:52 PM, Blogger katie loncke said...


All languages (Indo-European and non-Indo-European, incidentally) are fluid. There is no such thing as “the” (stagnant, ahistorical) English language since English usage has always varied geographically, temporally, and contextually. This doesn’t mean English is in no sense a coherent language, but neither is it finite. We aren’t slaves to convention; we can use language creatively to achieve our own ends, including using gender-neutral language when possible (as many scholars and authors are increasingly doing) rather than relying on terminologies that reinforce the notion that men are the norm and all others are exceptions. I hope you don’t underestimate the extent to which language shapes consciousness, and is therefore deeply political. While you’re right in that an attempt to eradicate all gendered language structures would be misguided, we can and should change the most blatantly sexist conventions. We control language, not the reverse.

At 12:55 AM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

To the 3:19 p.m. Anonymous poster: Logic/argument/philosophy/productivity/innovation were INVENTED in the West?!?! By the West, I'm assuming you're speaking of the present-day ideological West (Western Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, etc.) after they came to dominate the world through religious imperialism, war, and Native American genocide. Let's put this date at 1533 (when the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro murdered Incan ruler Atahualpa after exacting the largest ransom in history from him and his empire). You mean to tell me that for the roughly 7,000 years of recorded history up to that point where "Western" global imperialism really took a holding there was no logic, argument, or philosophy used to build pyramids and Sphinxes (that are STILL standing), establish complex intercontinental governments, or develop the fields of science, math, and technology (all done by North Africans)? Get for real.

Being the African studies concentrator that I am, I have a pretty good grasp of what life was like in West Africa before some 15 million of its inhabitants were shipped to the other side of the world and forced to do hard labor, get raped, and have their family members separated from them until they died in very harsh conditions. Life in West Africa was not what I just mentioned and that makes it better, even if we WERE running around naked (which we weren't), without cities (which we were, in the current sense of the word), and without the "word of God" (which we had...no thanks to the Portuguese missionaries and their armies).

At 2:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey jersey,

you operate under the assumption that if somehow other people knew all the facts that you do, they'd come to the same conclusions and hate capitalism, whitey, the world or whatever.

this is your blog to post so do as you wish. hopefully it'll be a place for you to vent. but realize that quite possibly there are ppl who are just as knowledgeable as you are about all the injustices and atrocities that have happened in the world, but deal with it differently.

but in terms of feeling personally injured by the things that have happened to native americans, black slaves, incas, or whatever, get over it. it's not your perogative to go asking apologies for wrongs done to other ppl. it's their right to do so, not your burden to take up. and to demand the descendants of the ppl who committed those atrocities to feel responsible for it? that's ridiculous too. get out of the victim mentality, it doesn't help anyone.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

To Anonymous at 2:49:

A few things:

(1) I do operate under said assumption.

(2) Don't assume to know what I know or understand where I'm coming from. If you did you would work to change where I come from (residentially and ideologically). Don't assume that reading a book and/or doing public service makes you knowledgeable. That is cursory. Truly understanding me requires experiencing injustice for the duration of your life and then coming to a historical, economic, social, political, and racial understanding of why you and your people are in that predicament. Once you arrive at this understanding there is little choice outside of becoming a strong advocate for change in society and its dominant institutions (in some form or another). If you have had said experience and don't seek that change, that's depressing, lazy, and selfish.

(3) Could you go into people who are aware of injustice and atrocities in the world dealing with it differently (do you mean not getting mad after having that knowledge? Not choosing to buy-out of the system [capitalism] that has kept many of these injustices and atrocities going? Thinking that by them "getting on" and becoming wealthy they can make social change occur through capital influx to the right groups [i.e. funding non-profits?]) a bit more? I'm not sure what you mean.

(4) No, Anonymous at 2:49 a.m., I can't just "get over it" because I'm still under it. I refer back to things that happened during the West's imperialist expansion and domination because the racial (and many other) relationships that were spawned from that time still largely dictate race relations today, four hundred years later. I'm not asking for apologies from anyone, also. I'm not asking for a change to what has been done and is still being done to OTHER people, I'm asking for change to what is being done to PEOPLE PERIOD. This is personally inclusive for me and for you. Ultimately, in the greatest but also most basic human sense, we need to get rid of dividers of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, nationality, etc. and just stop oppressing other human beings as a collective for green dollar bills and elevated social status.

(5) In line with the previous paragraph, I DO feel that the descendants of the people who committed those atrocities should feel responsible for it because from these atrocities they have gained their superior positions. SOOOO many privileged groups never question where their privilege comes from. They just know that it's been passed down to them by their parents (or their parent's parents or whoever) and they had to do nothing else to inherit it besides be born. I understand that no one can choose who they're born to or what social or economic class they're born into, but these things should be grappled with. Why do certain people (i.e. John Winthrop's descendants, for example) have automatic admission to Harvard? Why are the majority of White students at Harvard not used to being around domestic racial minorities (besides Asians, possibly) or non-middle or upper-class people? Why are organizations and institutions commended for admitting minorities (whether they be gender, racial, sexual orientation minorities, etc.)? All of these have derivatives in long past times. To get at the meat of today's problems reflection on the past must occur. Start doing it.

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous tina said...

hey chimaobi,

i gotta say, i agree with the crimson columnist's push to study the West.

and, i have to say that your critiques of imperialist religion, social segregation and capitalism aren't good reasons to not study Western history (i do not feel i possess an adequate academic background on the topic to address the issue of bland food.)

on imperialism: though piles of societies have done their best to control and exploit others via imperialism throughout history, it's true that the West has been much better at it than anyone else [as Samuel Huntington says, "The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion … but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do,"] but this was due to military and naval technology, not Christianity (which of course did not originate in the West, flourishing first especially in Egypt, but came of age in the West.) Islam has permeated just a large a global territory and replaced just as many previous religious and belief systems as Christianity has, but we do not critique this as imperialism; your anti-imperialist anger is better directed at soldiers than religious emissaries, and you should note my point that technology is not the same as culture.

Capitalism is a lot newer than the West. Core Western values do include individual achievement, [also: separation of spiritual and temporal authority, rule of law] but another central value is liberty – protection of the individual against the arbitrary power of the state. I think this connects to your dislike of the power of the state over our lives, expressed in your post above. Fareed Zakaria traces the evolution of Western ideas of liberty beautifully in his book “The Future of Freedom”: he says that “liberty in the West was born of a series of power struggles – between church and state, lord and king, Protestant and Catholic, business and state – embedded themselves in the fabric of Western life, producing greater and greater pressures for individual liberty, particularly in England” … he throws in the Roman influence too: “the Romans emphasized a different aspect of freedom: that all citizens were to be treated equally under the law. This conception of freedom is much closer to the modern Western one [than the Greek ideal of democracy], and the Latin world for it, libertas, is the root of ours.” It is the Western ideas of liberty and equality that fans of Western Civ like me and the Crimson columnist like, ethnocentric as we are.

This segues to your third critique, social segregation. I’m not inclined to think that the “rampant social segregation” claim holds much water in a comparative critique of the West either. Social segregation is a universal human practice, just like imperialism, and the West hasn’t practiced it the most or the best compared to other places, either in history or now. Actually, just the opposite in the present day. From a personal perspective, I’ve spent time in South Pacific, in Latin America, and more recently living for seven months in North Africa, and I have to tell you that it’s better being a woman in the West than anywhere else on the globe I’m familiar with. Not just a little bit better either, a lot better. I’m not the only woman who will say so either.

Have Western societies consistently violated their ideals throughout history up until the present day? Duh. It would again be giving the West too much credit to claim it has been the only culture in the history of time to be riddled with contradictory practices and belief systems. The West has had one truly unique cultural accomplishment in history: its creation of the technology to become politically and economically dominant in varying degrees over much of the rest of the world. I believe this power is eroding as other cultures adapt the same practices the West did to achieve its level of economic activity, and that that effort is a human one, not a Western one.

Should a university in and of the West like Harvard study Western civilization? I think it should, mainly because I like Western civilization and I think it’s worth studying. The key addendums are: part of Western civ I don’t particularly like are its pretensions toward universalism, and that needs to be made clear in the study of Western civ. this naturally implies that an educated Western person should be required to have an acceptable grounding in comparative history and culture as well. Studying Islamic history and culture, however briefly, for a semester last spring was a fascinating experience for as an educated Western person, kind of like finally meeting an estranged family member that no one talked about when you were growing up. There are so many connections to the history and philosophy of the West. Studying other cultures makes me appreciate the West all the more, too. for example, when I’m in the West, I have the ability to say something like, oh, I don’t know … “I believe men and women should have the same opportunities in life and the same roles in society,” and have a reasonable expectation I won’t be looked at like I’m there on a visit from Crazytown, like I was through much of last year.

your co leader!


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